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Report of Alternative Supplier of Automotive Airbag Inflators

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There has been a new development regarding the ongoing large number of product recall activities involving suspected automobile defective airbag inflators produced by supplier Takata Corporation.

The Associated Press is reporting that rival Japan based airbag inflator supplier Daicel Corporation announced last week that it will accelerate the building of a second U.S. factory in Arizona to meet the growing demand for alternative capacity for these components.  This supplier, responding to specific requests from Honda Motor for an alternative supplier, and expects to start operating the Arizona facility by March of 2016.  According to this report, Daicel has further plans to increase production of inflators at its existing factory in Western Japan to supply additional replacement parts later this year.

This is an obvious sign that alternative component supply arrangements are being initiated as Takata continues to struggle in resolution of current component needs.


Mercedes Benz USA Selects AM General as its First Contract Manufacturing Services Provider

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An interesting news release came across our Supply Chain Matters news feed last week, one that perhaps demonstrates the broad capabilities of certain contract manufacturers within the automotive and truck sector.

Mercedes Benz’s U.S. entity and AM General LLC jointly announced that because of the increasing demand for the Mercedes Benz R-Class luxury vehicle, and the subsequent need for increased capacity, that the luxury sports utility vehicle would now be moved from the Mercedes U.S, Tuscaloosa Alabama facility and instead be manufactured at AM General’s commercial assembly plant in Mishawaka Indiana. Under this multi-year agreement, AM General becomes Mercedes first and only contract manufacturing operator within the United States. The R-Class vehicles manufactured and assembled by AM General are expected to roll-off its assembly lines this summer.

According to its web site, AM General designs, engineers, manufactures supplies and supports specialized vehicles for commercial and military customers. The manufacturer claims more than six decades of experience meeting the changing needs of the defense and automotive industries with a legacy of product innovation. In addition to its manufacturing capabilities, the company further provides support in service parts and integrated logistics as well as supply chain management.

AM General’s business units include three wholly owned subsidiaries, diesel engine manufacturer General Engine Products, automatic transmission manufacturer General Transmission Products, and Mobility Ventures which is the prime recipient of the contract manufacturing agreement. However, this manufacturer would best be known by U.S. and other military veterans as the original designer and manufacturer of the famous HMMWV (Humvee®) troop transport vehicle.

AM General’s Mobility Ventures produces the iconic HUMMER® H1 and H2 branded vehicles, along with specialized wheelchair accessible vehicles for public and private transportation. As a result of the new partnership with Mercedes Benz USA, the manufacturer further announced the hiring of two new senior executives, a new business unit President and an executive vice-president engineering, sales, distribution and dealer support.

AM General Hummer H1

 

 

 

Humvee

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercedes R-Class SUV

 

 

 

The multi-purpose manufacturer claims more than six decades of experience meeting the changing needs of the defense and automotive industries with a legacy of product innovation. In addition to its manufacturing capabilities, the company additionally features specialized support in service parts and integrated logistics as well as supply chain management.

We at Supply Chain Matters could not help but think about the contrasts related to this announcement.  Picture the Humvee or H1, (pictured above) the embodiment of rugged, tough and explosive-proof, being produced in the same facility as a luxury SUV with all the driver and passenger creature comforts.  That is quite a contrast.

Then again, it could provide a testimonial to the notions that product design integration and contract manufacturing services can co-exist among various purpose-built vehicles.

 


Supply Chain Matters Update on Analytics Services and Software Provider Lokad

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In late 2010, Supply Chain Matters introduced our readers to Paris based Lokad, a rather unique technology services provider which at the time we coined as mathematicians on-demand.  After our initial briefing with Founder Joannès Vermorel, we came away with an impression that industry supply chain teams had an interesting and somewhat cost affordable alternative in generating much more sophisticated timely and accurate forecasting techniques.

The company differentiated itself on the sophistication of its staff of highly trained mathematicians who take on challenges reflected in difficult forecasting problems. Customers are provided alternatives in loading product demand data “as it is” via the cloud, leveraging a Microsoft Azure platform, avoiding the need to perform tedious data formatting and pre-analysis. Vermorel and his team described themselves as rather pragmatic in the view that the goal is not to have the most accurate forecast, but rather a more automated means to determine the best response to fulfilling product demand under challenging constraints.

We checked-in with founder Vermorel in 2013 to learn about Lokad’s diversification efforts in quantile forecasting services and supporting software. As opposed to deterministic or mean-driven forecasts where respective forecast weighting are averaged, quantile forecasts introduce a purposeful bias in the forecasting algorithm and can be viewed as a stochastic method for forecasting. Our 2013 briefing notes reflected that Lokad continued to test its quantile methods on many industry verticals including the production of auto parts, electrical supplies, textile products, spare parts and packaging materials. Lokad consultants work with customers to fully understand their planning needs and develop a more sophisticated planning approach utilizing their cloud-based software platform.

A lot has occurred in advanced supply chain planning methods since 2010, most notably the notions of predictive and/or prescriptive analytics being applied to supply chain product demand and resource needs.  The demand for trained individuals in analytics and Big-Data analysis in-fact has become so intense, that we called our readers attention to a Wall Street Journal report in August of last year indicating that one of the hottest jobs in tech was that of a data scientist. The WSJ noted that in certain cases, data scientists were commanding $200,000 – $300,000 annual salaries due to the shortage of such skills. Many supply chain teams as well as business teams would view that full-time expense as expensive or burdensome.

Kicking off 2015, we were thus very eager to include a check-in again with Lokad.

To little surprise, we learned that the company has now positioning itself as “Quantification Optimization for Commerce” and has since moved into offices twice its original size.  The technology provider has now amassed hundreds of customers, has branched into a number of quantitative services and has developed its own next generation programming language specifically for supply chain planning and forecasting needs. We were informed of the firm’s first 7 figure engagement and its efforts to dive far deeper into challenging and industry-unique supply chain planning challenges.

What is rather unique and refreshing is that Lokad continues with its model of on-demand mathematicians providing ongoing analytical services for clients periodically during any given year. The Lokad cloud-based forecasting engine generates product forecasts predicated on probabilities and a range of predictions predicated on operational business metrics and/or operational risks. The explosion of Omni-channel commerce in retail sectors has especially fueled such needs and requirements as well as the unique needs of service focused supply chains related to highly sophisticated equipment.

We explored some current observations regarding the state of certain industry forecasting, specifically that Lokad has amassed over hundreds of engagements, The provider continues to observe fixed vs. fluid or more agile focused assumptions related to planning. For instance, top management at some firms has not taken the time to change inputted assumptions related to the cost of capital.   A forecasting model for a U.S. firm continued to run with the assumption of a 6 percent cost of capital when cash is available at a far lower rate. Such a rigid assumption can often derail the accuracy of more predictive decision-making methods.

Our briefing included an in-depth discussion on the current state of Big-Data and predictive analytics initiatives across various industry settings.  Vermorel apparently shares in our belief and prediction that many initiatives can well be de-railed in the coming months and years because of a lack of proper design. According to Vermorel, they include a “naïve rationalism” and actually fail at truly capturing the true drivers of the business and of the supply chain.

This author was so captivated by these observations that we extended an invitation for a Supply Chain Matters guest posting so that our readers can specifically learn from such observations.

Thus, what follows this updated commentary on Lokad is Founder Joannes Vermorel’s gracious guest posting, The Challenges and Obstacles of Big Data and Analytics Applied in Supply Chain and Commerce Decision Making.

We sincerely thank him for his contribution and insights.

Bob Ferrari

© 2015, The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.


Automotive Service Networks Response to Crisis: Update Three- Expanded Recall Involving Suspected Defective Air Bag Inflators

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Supply Chain Matters provides another update to the ongoing crisis involving the automotive industry as unprecedented levels of product recalls continue to stress auto aftermarket service supply chains to their limits. In our last commentary, we noted the colliding forces of regulatory, political, and capacity-restrained automotive replacement spare parts networks may well continue for many more months, and that appears to be exactly what continues to unfold. Once more, when the dust settles, we believe that the industry needs to take a hard look at lessons learned.

This week, there were further significant developments related to recalls of alleged defective airbag inflators produced by Japan based supplier Takata. After undergoing additional scrutiny from U.S. regulators, Takata refused to broaden the scope of the defective inflators recall beyond a select number of U.S. States with high humidity concerns.  That action forced OEM Honda, to expand its U.S. recall of suspected defective airbag inflators to all 50 U.S. states. Once more, Honda further indicated to U.S. regulators that the company is in discussions with other air bag suppliers to add augmented capacity of replacement parts. According to published reports, Honda is in discussion with suppliers AutoLiv and Daicel Corp. for supplementing supplies of required repair parts. In testimony this week, a Honda executive confirmed what Supply Chain Matters indicated several weeks ago, that the shortage of repair replacement parts would continue for quite some time.

U.S. regulators continue to pressure OEM’s BMW, Chrysler, Ford and Mazda to expand their driver-side air bag recall campaigns to include all 50 states. These actions have been prompted by additional information disclosed this week by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicating that prior incidents of premature exploding airbags are not just occurring in high-humidity areas. That is new information not brought forward previously. If these other OEM’s expand their campaigns to include all U.S. states, that will of-course add even more concerns to the ultimate availability of replacement parts.

According to a published report by The Wall Street Journal, earlier in the week Takata issued a letter to the NHTSA challenging the authority of that agency to compel a parts supplier to initiate a recall, arguing that the U.S. regulator authority is limited only to actual OEM’s that produce automobiles. From the lens of Supply Chain Matters, that argument is tantamount to a supplier throwing its major automotive OEM customers under the proverbial bus.

There should be little doubt among automotive line of business and supply chain leaders that these past few years of unprecedented product recalls are cause to revisit product quality imperatives. There has been a lengthy industry debate as to whether the quest for volume and profitability growth sacrifices quality conformance across the end-to-end supply chain. On the positive side, Hyundai recently scaled-back its volume growth plans when indicators of slipping quality motivated senior leadership to cut-back growth plans and endorse added quality measures.  The fact that Honda, which has prided itself in the quality image of its products is now front and center in the media is a symptom. In contrast, reports in business media of late question whether Toyota or General Motors have been chasing volume and profitability growth with quality and brand image as a casualty.

Evidence of common defective parts among multiple OEM brands and models point to shortfalls in quality monitors and component sourcing strategies that balance quality conformance risks. At the surface, these developments are perhaps a further indication that teams are not collecting or monitoring correct data as to component failure trends along with predictive indicators of broader manufacturing or material issues. The industry needs to take a hard look at supply-chain-wide quality conformance and feedback mechanisms.

Bob Ferrari


Revelation That GM Ordered Replacement Ignition Switches Weeks Before Formal Product Recall

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In our ongoing observations of global business developments and the linkages to the areas where supply chains do matter, this editor has been amused as to how equity analysts and business media now hone-in on a company’s supply chain information leaks to uncover information on a particular firm.  To cite an example, Apple’s supply chain across Asia has had numerous information leaks regarding potential new products or supply chain glitches related to Apple.

Supply Chain Matters readers have most likely been following our ongoing commentaries relative to the current crisis that has impacted aftermarket service supply chains within the automotive industry. An explosion of various automotive model recalls has cascaded to unprecedented levels. Beyond the current air bag deflator issues surrounding supplier Takada, lest we forget the incidents of faulty ignition switches leading to a multitude of product recalls involving multiple models of General Motors vehicles.

In what we can best described as “oh crap” news, The Wall Street Journal disclosed this past weekend (paid subscription required) that GM placed an order for a half-million replacement ignition switches almost two months before alerting U.S. safety regulators. The publication cites its source as emails viewed between a GM contract worker and supplier Delphi Automotive, and where the supplier was asked to develop an aggressive plan of action to produce and ship these replacement parts. The article further cites communication among a GM contract worker at Menlo Worldwide Logistics in-turn, seeking a plan from Delphi regarding the build and ship plan for the replacement switches. The report further indicates that it took Delphi about a month to outline a parts shipping plan.

The publication notes that the timing “is sure to give fodder to lawyers suing GM and looking to poke holes in a timetable the auto maker gave for its recall of 2.5 million vehicles. Readers can certainly review the entire WSJ published article which addresses a multitude of implications. However, we feel compelled to add a supply chain planning perspective.

Supporting a product recall of such magnitude requires the coordinated planning of a rather complex spare parts and service management network. Automotive manufacturers know all too well that proper up-front planning and synchronization of parts and dealer servicing resources is required as much as possible, before notifying consumers of the product recall. However, regulatory reporting requirements can foil attempts for proper planning.

Consumers expect to have specific information as to the defective part and when their vehicle will be repaired.  A product recall of the size of 2 million or more vehicles requires urgency to planning and it seems rather plausible that GM would issue such a spare parts order with requirements for aggressive production. It also places supplier Delphi in a rather difficult situation in having to coordinate revised product design specifications within existing production, allocate supplemental resources and generate volumes of parts over and above prior planned spare or production parts schedules.

The sum total of this commentary is perhaps two-fold. First, supply chain information leaks and security is an obvious growing problem. The utilization of emails or spreadsheets to plan or initiate supplier orders adds to the potential of information leaks.

Second, manufacturers often overlook the critical aspects of their service management supply networks, which can often support higher margins than product management value-chains. Just as product supply chains have to manage in the new normal of supply chin complexity while being more responsive to constantly changing events, service supply chains have even more complex challenges. They often represent the most current touch point and customer perception of your brand.

Bob Ferrari

 


Supply Chain Matters Update Two: Automotive Service and Spare Parts Networks Respond to Crisis

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Supply Chain Matters provides another update to the ongoing crisis involving aftermarket spare parts and service management supply chains within the Automotive sector as unprecedented levels of product recalls stress the system to its limits. U.S. automakers alone Airbaghave recalled more than 30 million vehicles this year as a result of a heightened regulatory environment that has prompted auto makers to issue a recall out of an Abundance of caution and legal protection.

Regarding the product recalls related to the airbag inflators produced by Takata Corrp., this has been a rather busy week of finger-pointing and consternation.

Last week, U.S. regulators nearly doubled the estimate of vehicles subject to recall. Reports have come to light that auto makers and regulators were aware of Takata air bag inflator problems for several years. The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office that led the investigation and $1.2 billion fine on Toyota to settle a previous incident related to unintended acceleration of vehicles is now reported to have launched a preliminary investigation of the ongoing Takata inflator incident. On the political front, Congressional leaders in Washington are threatening more probes of the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration (NHSTA) for its handling on the ongoing air bag inflator incidents, a sure sign of more political pressures and maneuvering.

On Tuesday, the CEO of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the U.S. indicated that he has instructed his dealerships to halt the sales of 400 used cars that are subject to the airbag inflator recall. He further urged regulators to get control of an “incoherent response”.

Yesterday, NHSTA gave inflator supplier Takata a deadline of December 1 to supply added documents and respond under oath to additional questions.

From a service supply chain perspective, NHTSA released details of industry meetings indicating that it will take several months before there are enough spare parts to support the current inflator recall. It appears that most automotive manufacturers are prioritizing the limited supply of replacement inflators to warm and humid regions, which has been identified as the most probable risk for failure and subsequent injury. Reports indicate that BMW, Ford and Mazda are limiting spare replacements to the few identified high-humidity southern U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Indeed, NHTSA had issued guidelines supporting prioritization of replacement parts to these most at-risk regions, but automobile owners remain confused and frustrated as to what to do.  That continues to add more pressure to automobile dealers and their associated services businesses to be able to respond to consumer fears for driving an unsafe vehicle.  In our conversation with various people this week we have already heard stories from those impacted by recall or service campaign notices.

The colliding forces of regulatory, political, and automotive replacement spare parts networks continue and may well continue for many more months.

Bob Ferrari


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